The Human Rights Defenders (HRD) Awards gala’s seventh edition was not your typical gathering of human rights advocates.
The gala, which was held on Friday, December 2 at the residence of the Swedish Ambassador in Nairobi Kenya, brought together human rights advocates from all spheres of life.
At 2 pm, guests began to arrive for the invitation-only, star-studded event. Ambassador Caroline Vicini, the event’s host, and Kamau Ngugi, the Executive Director of the Defenders Coalition and chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa HRD Network, will then give opening remarks.
Following the introduction of the eight-member selection panel, which included former Chief Justice Dr. Willy Mutunga, the audience was treated to a speech by their chairperson, Rachael Mwikali.
The winners of the HRD Awards’ previous iteration also shared their testimonies about their efforts to ensure that Kenya develops a democratic state and society that upholds social justice and human rights.
Following that, it culminated in the day’s main agenda, which was to honor and celebrate the brave Kenyans who have dedicated their lives to defending and advancing the universality of human rights.
Meet the Winners of Human Rights Defenders Award 2022
John Allan Namu
The investigative journalist John Allan Namu won the overall winner of the Human Rights Defender of the Year award.
Namu received praise for concentrating on social justice topics throughout the most of his 17-year journalism career.
He has written numerous articles discussing the overuse of force, extrajudicial killings, and forced disappearances by Kenya’s security forces. One such piece is the documentary “Justice be our shield,” which tells the story of the plot to kill human rights lawyer and investigator Willie Kimani, his client Josephat Mwenda, and their cab driver Joseph Muiruri.
Billy Hani is another Upcoming Human Rights Defender of the Year Award winner.
Billy, a queer artist and activist based in Kenya, explores African queerness, sexuality, gender identity and expression, bodies, and mental health through writing and photography.
Billy is a co-curator of HeART Out Kenya, an art therapy initiative for feminists, LGBTQ+ people, and other groups.
Billy began his activism in 2018 by educating people about LGBTQ+ issues on social media.
They have advocated for LGBTQ+ rights online and in person in various local and national spaces over the last five years.
They’ve written extensively about the issues that Sexual and Gender Minorities face, and they’re still documenting similar stories through writing and photography.
Grace Kalekye Mwangangi was named Upcoming Human Rights Defender of the Year.
She was trafficked to India and forced into sex work in 2018, prompting her to become an anti-human trafficking advocate.
Kalekye, a journalist-turned-musician intern at Free the Slaves, has used radio, television, and social media platforms to share her story in order to raise awareness about human trafficking.
She dreams of one day having a large platform where survivors can tell their stories and victims can connect with their families.
Along with Grace Kalekye and Billy Hani, Lisa Gem was the third recipient of the Upcoming Human Rights Defenders of the Year Award.
The Popular Vote Award went to Boniface Mwangi, arguably one of the most outspoken and courageous Kenyans of his generation.
Mwangi began his career as a photojournalist, but the 2008 Post-Election Violence marked a turning point for him after he witnessed firsthand the brutality that the country’s most vulnerable citizens faced. At this point, he decided to become an activist and founded “Picha Mtaani,” a traveling photography company intended to both record and denounce the violence.
Mwangi has been arrested several times for advocating for justice for Kenyans and calling out corrupt politicians.
However, this is not the first time Mwangi has been recognized for his efforts to promote human rights.
He won the prestigious Prince Claus award nine years ago.
Prof. Micere Mugo
Even though he was not present, renowned dramatist, author, activist, teacher, and poet Prof. Micere Mugo was also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award during the vibrant gala.
She uses her artistic creations as a platform to advance social justice and human rights throughout Africa, not only in Kenya.
Micere and her family were forced to leave Kenya in 1982 after the attempted coup because she was one of the people the government was hunting. She lost her citizenship as well.
The courageous Prof. Micere continued her literary critique, African Orature, and Human Rights work after fleeing to Zimbabwe and obtaining employment as a teacher. She emphasizes the politics of the Kirinyaga County Ndia community’s culture in this essay.
The writer, Daniel Maithya is a Communications and Digital Media Strategist.